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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: "Is Paris Burning?"

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#1 of 13 OFFLINE   StuartGalbraith



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Posted June 04 2003 - 08:49 PM

Posted Image

DVD Review – Is Paris Burning?

Director, Rene Clement; Producer, Paul Graetz; Screenplay, Francis Ford Coppola and Gore Vidal, based on the book by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre; Director of Photography, Marcel Grignon; Art Director, Willy Holt; Editor, Robert Lawrence; Music, Maurice Jarre.
Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charles Boyer, Leslie Caron, Jean-Pierre Cassel, George Chakiris, Alain Delon, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Gert Frobe, Yves Montand, Anthony Perkins, Simone Signoret, Robert Stack, Marie Versini, Skip Ward, Orson Welles, Claude Dauphin, E.G. Marshall, Michel Piccoli, Wolfgang Preiss, Gunter Meisner, Hannes Messemer, Michael Lonsdale.
A Marianne Productions/Transcontinental Production. A Paramount Pictures Release. Black and white with color insert. Panavision. 172 minutes including overture and intermission. No MPAA Rating. Released October 26, 1966.

DVD: Released by Paramount Home Video. Street Date June 10, 2003. $19.99
2.35:1/16:9. Dolby 5.1 and Dolby Surround (English version), Dolby Digital Mono (French version). Special Features: None.

Reviewed by Stuart Galbraith IV

The enormous success of The Longest Day in 1962 resulted in 15 years of sweeping, all-star war epics, usually centered on pivotal battles like Midway and the Battle of the Bulge. Many of these films offered spectacle and little else, and none were accused of being anything like art. Is Paris Burning?, about the liberation of Paris after the successful Allied invasion of Normandy, is perhaps the oddest picture to be produced during this time. Though its setting nearly qualifies it as a sequel to The Longest Day, it is notably short on big scale battle scenes. The film, produced mainly with French financing, was a critical and commercial flop, at least in the United States.

I suspect Americans were turned off by the lack of big battle scenes, and by a cast dominated by French names heretofore associated mainly with art house films. Conversely, fans director Rene Clement and actors like Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo probably felt their favorites had sold out.

Indeed, Clement, who is probably best remembered for Forbidden Games (1952) and Purple Noon (1960, later remade as The Talented Mr. Ripley) has crafted a film very much like The Longest Day, with many of that film’s strengths and weaknesses.

There are stars galore. Except for Jean Marais and Philippe Noiret, Is Paris Burning? seems to have employed just about every living French film star. Many, however, such as Simone Signoret and Yves Montand, did their day’s work then seemingly ran off to deposit their check. Similarly, American stars like Kirk Douglas and Glenn Ford (as Generals Patton and Omar Bradley, no less!) appear in one or two scenes and disappear. The film is separated by an intermission and almost no one appears throughout the picture; even the bigger parts/longer stories tend to run their course on one side of the break or the other. Oddly enough, the biggest part in terms of screen time went to German Gert Frobe, Goldfinger himself, who is excellent as the German general ordered by Hitler to destroy Paris, landmarks and all, should the city fall into Allied hands. Frobe’s transition from cold Nazi acolyte to a resigned, vaguely sympathetic character is one of the picture’s strongest assets.

Like The Longest Day, the film’s best scenes are little moments that capture the surrealness of war and little pieces of humanity amid all the bloodshed. There’s a remarkable scene, for instance of a German soldier still smoldering after having a Molotov cocktail dropped on him. As he wanders about, an old man in the background looks on briefly, and then continues on his way to work as if there was nothing strange about a German soldier looking like Wile E. Coyote after a particularly nasty explosion. Some of the French soldiers are surprised to find themselves liberating their own neighborhoods, while others are able to call relatives in Paris even as Germans continue to control the city.

The film also captures the giddy excitement of the Parisians as liberation draws near (one family prematurely steps onto its balcony, flag and all, while Germans fire machine guns beneath them), and the tone of the picture is generally upbeat. In celebrating the retaking of Paris, however, the film perhaps unjustly sidesteps for the most part the issue of German collaboration and mob retribution once freedom was at hand.

How is the Transfer?
There are a few nicks and scratches, but overall the black and white, widescreen transfer (enhanced for 16:9 televisions) is in fine shape, with deep blacks and sharp resolution. This is a roadshow version complete with an overture and three-minute intermission. To this end it has a feature I’ve never seen on a DVD before: the viewer is prompted to choose to play the film with or without the overture, and if one selects the overture, can still select to start the film anytime during this prelude.

For the first time on home video, Paramount also offers viewers the option of selecting the original French soundtrack. This is problematic, however. The French soundtrack dubs everyone, including German and American characters, into French, while the English track dubs Germans, French, and American characters all into English. I tried switching back-and-forth, so I could hear the French actors speak French, the Americans English, and so on. However, this soon became incredibly confusing. In one scene, for instance, Orson Welles, playing a Swede, is clearly speaking English to French actress Leslie Caron, who speaks French in the previous scene but English in her scene with Welles. When Welles’ Swede goes to see Gert Frobe, Welles continues in English while Frobe mouths his part in German. However, in the French version both speak French (and it’s clearly neither Welles’ nor Frobe’s voice), while on the English soundtrack we hear Welles and what sounds like the voice of Michael Collins, who dubbed Frobe’s voice in Goldfinger.

Around that point I permanently switched to English. This, however, is not a bad option, as many of the French actors—Caron, Signoret, Charles Boyer – dubbed their parts in both languages. The French track is mono, while the both 5.1 and Dolby Surround are offered in English.

Special Features
Aucun, ne pas égaliser un trailer – er, that is, there are none, not even a trailer.

Parting Thoughts
More than most war films, Is Paris Burning? has an immediacy and intimacy that was generally overlooked by film critics at the time. The 1960s was a time when a lot of the military hardware still existed, and cities like Paris still looked much as they did during the war. Watching Is Paris Burning?, one can easily imagine the cast and especially the extras cheering on the Allied tanks as having lived through the real thing only 22 years before. That kind of thing no amount of CGI technology can ever duplicate. Hollywood war movies tend to be set Over There. Is Paris Burning? illustrates what it must have been like having a war in your own backyard.

Is Paris Burning?

#2 of 13 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted June 04 2003 - 09:12 PM

I'm waiting on my preorder dvd and thanks for the headsup about the dvd presentation. Crawdaddy



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#3 of 13 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted June 04 2003 - 09:16 PM

Worth a blind buy? Gordy

#4 of 13 OFFLINE   Jay E

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Posted June 05 2003 - 12:36 AM

I would rent it first Gordon. I found it to be very disappointing which was the prevailing opinion of most critics when it was released.

#5 of 13 OFFLINE   Tommy Ceez

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Posted June 05 2003 - 01:23 AM

I tend to ignore anything with Gore Vidal's name on it.
"We seem to be getting closer and closer to a situation where nobody is responsible for what they did but we are all responsible for what someone else did." - Thomas Sowell

#6 of 13 OFFLINE   Mark Hedges

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Posted June 05 2003 - 01:29 AM

I recently read the book which I thought was interesting. I will have to try to find this DVD! Mark

#7 of 13 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted June 05 2003 - 03:03 AM

Let me be among the first to welcome you to the forum. An excellent review—I look forward to many more. I particularly liked your discussion of the audio options. Also the background you presented on the film and the times.

[quote] Aucun, ne pas égaliser un trailer [quote] Posted Image
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#8 of 13 OFFLINE   Simon_Lepine


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Posted June 05 2003 - 03:23 AM

Great review, thanks!

I'm torn on this one, with such an amazing cast, it's very tempting, but the movie itself doesn't look very good.

[quote] Aucun, ne pas égaliser un trailer [quote]

Posted Image égaliser translates to equal, so this roughly translates to 'none, doesn't equal a trailer'. Funny touch with the french anyway Posted Image correct translation for 'even' would be 'même' so 'Aucun, pas même un trailer'

#9 of 13 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted June 05 2003 - 08:53 AM

Thanks, Jay. Posted Image

As I have become aware about Gore Vidal's involvement in the film, I think I will pass.

Too much films I love to buy anyway! Posted Image


#10 of 13 OFFLINE   Rob Gardiner

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Posted June 05 2003 - 11:10 AM

Thank you, Stuart, for an excellent review and welcome to the forum! I have never heard of this film but it looks interesting. Perhaps I will give it a rent. To Tommy and Gordon, What are your objections to Gore Vidal? I'm not familiar with his work (other than the movie VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET based on one of his plays). Feel free to respond privately so as not to hijack this thread.

#11 of 13 OFFLINE   Steve Schaffer

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Posted June 05 2003 - 01:46 PM

I've always loved this movie whenever it's been on one of the cable channels, and did not even know it was coming out. This, along with the Burt Lancaster film whose name escapes me but which concerns hijacking a Nazi art-theft train has always been one of my favorite war movies. Thanks for the review, Stuart, and thanks for forgoing all the screenshots, makes loading much faster.
Steve S.
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#12 of 13 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted June 05 2003 - 03:00 PM

Great film, "The Train".



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#13 of 13 OFFLINE   Douglas R

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Posted June 10 2003 - 07:19 AM

Just got this. It's a film I like because it has wonderful authenticity even if it does lack a coherent story line. It comes across with even more realism if you play the French audio track along with English sub tiitles. One disappointment is that Paramount have arranged the disc so that the Overture plays against a menu screen. This should not have been done because the Overture is part of the film and should ideally be played against a black screen or simply played with the word "Overture" on the screen.

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